Politics

The Persecution of John Edwards

The only thing worse than Edwards' ugly behavior is the government's effort to put him in jail for it.

|

John Edwards is a vain, lying scum who cheated on his wife while she was dying of cancer. But one thing far worse than his contemptible conduct is the government's effort to put him in jail for it.

In this case, prosecutors are exploiting a vague, confusing law to criminalize conduct that has not been treated as a crime before. The only good news is that its prosecution is so ill-founded and over the top that it is likely to fail.

Federal prosecutors have a checkered record of late when it comes to high-profile public officials. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who talked for hours on wiretaps about his sleazy schemes, was convicted on only one of 24 counts in his first trial. His brother was convicted on no counts.

After Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted in 2008 of taking gifts and lying about them, the judge cleared him because of outrageous prosecutorial misconduct.

In 2009, a former governor of Puerto Rico was acquitted on all nine corruption counts. Last year, the mayor of Ridgefield, N.J., won his case, and a former Jersey City assemblyman got his vindication soon after.

Edwards didn't have to go to trial. He turned down a plea bargain that would have let him keep his law license and serve no more than six months in prison. If convicted on all charges, however, he's likely to get upward of five years. Fighting the government, as usual in criminal cases, carries a huge downside—which is a way to coerce the innocent to plead guilty.

Edwards, however, is not your usual criminal suspect. He is a first-class trial lawyer who knows a lot about how juries think. He can afford the best defense lawyers around. If he and they believe he can beat the rap, I suspect he will.

It helps Edwards that the law he allegedly broke is a study in confusion. The Federal Election Commission, which normally handles violations of campaign laws, has given contradictory guidance in the past on cases like this, leaving ample doubt about what's allowed.

Former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas issued a statement saying, "A criminal prosecution of a candidate on these facts would be outside anything I would expect after decades of experience with the campaign finance laws." Karl Sandstrom, a former vice chairman, refused to testify for the prosecution, deeming its case "a stretch."

If the government is split about what the statute allows and prohibits, how is Edwards supposed to know what he may do? How is a jury supposed to send him to prison for guessing wrong?

The case against him is pretty simple. In 2007, while running for president, he solicited more than $900,000 in donations from two rich supporters. He used the money to secretly support his mistress, Rielle Hunter, who later gave birth to his child.

The government insists the funds were campaign contributions intended to "conceal from the public facts that he believed would harm his candidacy." Edwards' lawyers say they were personal gifts that he used for a private, and perfectly legal, purpose: to keep his wife in the dark.

To convict him, prosecutors have to prove that the payments "would have been made irrespective of the candidacy." But it's no reach to think Edwards would have gone to great expense to hide Hunter even if he were not running for president.

Demonstrating "reasonable doubt" about his motives seems eminently plausible.

Melanie Sloan, head of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, issued a statement calling the case against Edwards "strikingly flimsy." Not only that, she said, but "no court has ever interpreted the definition of campaign contribution this broadly."

New York University law professor Richard Pildes writes that "the government has never brought a criminal case involving an expansive notion of 'contribution,' let alone one as expansive as this case involves." Before this indictment, he estimates, 90 percent of election law experts would have assumed this sort of donation was not covered.

The Justice Department has no business trying to imprison someone for violating a law whose meaning is anyone's guess. Civilized government requires giving citizens clear advance notice of what constitutes a crime.

Edwards' conduct was so repellent that he enjoys little sympathy, making his prosecution politically safe. But the rule of law exists to protect sinners as well as saints. He may deserve to rot in hell. Just not in jail.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM

NEXT: How Do You Say That in French?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If being a scumbag were a crime punishable by prison time, half of H&R’s commentariat would be sporting orange jumpsuits.

    Hayooooo!

  2. I don’t care who he fucked, or why. He stole money, go to jail, and STFU

    1. Whose money did he steal? He had a rich friend voluntarily pay off his mistress.

      1. Facts, schmacts.

        1. He hardly borrowed money from a friend to pay for a hooker.

          It was donated money that received a tax deduction. He stole money from me

          Fuck him

          1. Tax deductions = stolen money? Was your checking account debited? Do you have the receipt? And finally, how do you look in orange?

          2. You don’t get a tax deduction for campaign contributions you stupid twat.

            1. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status political action committeeS?

              1. That means the organization itself is tax exempt not that your donations to it are tax exempt. You are thinking of 501C3 organizations. Not every 501(c) organization’s donations are tax deductible you silly cow.

                1. stupid twat + you silly cow.
                  I always forget that compliments like those are libertarian flirting techniques

                  1. And you love it or you wouldn’t come on here rather.

                  2. Just giving a hard time Rather.

          3. It was on the donor’s books as a political campaign contribution. Those aren’t deductible.

            He’s accused of a violation of FEC rules not theft.

            1. Oops, should read everything. Allready handled.

            2. But, just for the record no story claims that any of these violations have anything to do with a 501(c)(3). All the donations seem to have been direct personal donations from individuals to the Edwards campaign.

              If there were violations to do with 501(c)(3) I’m fairly sure that the IRS would be involved.

              The indictment seems to list a bunch of stuff to do with exceeding donation limits and using funds for purposes not permitted etc. No mention of tax law violations that I could find.

          4. No he didn’t.

            The money in question was never part of his campaign.

            The government is trying to claim that it was an in-kind contribution.

            In fact, their legal theory is that he committed a crime by AVOIDING using donated money. That’s the whole point.

  3. “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

    Matthew 26:52

    1. Mr. Underwear man can quote the bible: more evidence that libertarianism is evil

  4. As a politician, I loath Edwards. But God I hope he beats the wrap. Five years for having someone pay off your mistress? That is ridiculous. The DOJ is completely out of control. Every lawyer who works there needs to be fired and disbarred. Just start from scratch. And no one gets a job there unless they have actually defended someone from government action once in their lives. Assholes.

    1. Every lawyer who works there needs to be fired and disbarred. Just start from scratch. And no one gets a job there unless they have actually defended someone from government action once in their lives. Assholes.

      FTFY

    2. You’re a politician?

  5. He stole my kidney. I woke up in a bathtub full of ice. On the other hand, the love-making was awesome.

  6. Reason sure knows how to dial up the angst factor on principle, eh? Personally, my biggest issue with such a little lying weasel scumbag like Edwards having karma bend back around and bite him on his perfumed ass is that such a lame-o avenue of attack is being pursued by the fucking dolts from the DOJ.

    I shed no tears for Edwards. He can evoke all the unborn fetal tears to the jury he’d care to. He got to dance at the fucking prom, so its no concern of mine that he has to change the flat tire he’s gotten from driving like an imbecile, in the rain, while everyone passes by. THe mud is already on him, no swerving for extra splash required.

    Fuck John Edwards. With a Rhinoceros dick.

    1. Schadenfreude is so attractive.

    2. I am very sympathetic to this argument. But if I won’t defend the people you don’t like how do you defend the people you do?

  7. Hmmmmmmm. John Edwards… John Edwards… John Edwards…

    … nope. Not picking up a goddamned thing on my Give-A-Shit-ometer. Must be a loose wire, somewhere.

  8. What he did should not be illegal. However, I’m pretty sure he never met a campaign finance reform law he didn’t like, so fuck him.

    1. With a Rhinoceros dick?

    2. Unfortunately, we have to save his worthless ass if we want to save our own.

      If it was just him I’d say let it burn.

  9. “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die.”

  10. If Edwards and his legal team are claiming that these were *not* campaign donations, then did he report them as personal income and pay Federal and state income tax on them? Gifts are taxable income.

    1. So you’re saying that if someone gives YOU a gift I should report it on MY tax return?

    2. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if you check the tax code, you”l find that the gift tax is different from the income tax and it is paid by the giver not the receiver.

      1. Don’t you have to claim gifts in excess of $10K on income taxes?

  11. I’m not thrilled about this prosecution, either, but I do hope they broke down his door and shot whatever pets he may have before arresting him.

    1. What the fuck did his pets do wrong?

      1. Are you suggesting that they aren’t complicit in this? They laid around and watched it all happen. They all need some killin’, including the fish.

        1. Link?

  12. Well, they probably licked him affectionately at one time or another.

  13. I find the argument carries little water. But for Edwards run for president and the potential purchase of influence; no one would give $900,000 to him to bribe off his “baby momma”. The funds were all about election no saving Johnny’s wife from heartbreak

  14. I’m pretty sure both the giver and the recipient have to report gifts above a certain amount ($13,000?) to the IRS.

    If whoever got the money didn’t, then they are in a bind – they either didn’t report a gift as a gift, in which case they violated tax law, or the money wasn’t a gift because it was a campaign contribution of some kind, in which case it violated the campaign finance laws.

    And the notion that this was totally unconnected from his campaign doesn’t pass any kind of plausibility test.

    1. I think your correct and to further the idea, if it had been his wife who was given the money that would have been viewed as under the table contributions and I say in believe in todays world there is no legal difference between a wife or a girlfriend and in this case Edwards just happens to have both.

    2. But it’s no reach to think Edwards would have gone to great expense to hide Hunter even if he were not running for president.

      True, but it’s a huge reach to think anyone would give $900,000 to a millionaire to hide a mistress if he was not running for president. Which makes it a campaign contribution, doesn’t it?

      (And shouldn’t hiding a mistress cost far less than $900,000?)

      1. No shit. What exactly did she need that would cost so much?

      2. (And shouldn’t hiding a mistress cost far less than $900,000?)

        Didn’t one of the recent French Presidents get in trouble for not spending enough on his mistress?

        I think Edwards was just trying to avoid that embarrassment.

    3. Everything you wanted to know about the gift tax.

      I swear the more I see of the tax laws in this great land the more frustrated I get. And I’m usually something of an apologist for the notion that some level of taxation in OK rather than going the whole “taxation is theft” road.

      I firmly believe that if anyone tells he understands the tax code he’s bullshitting. But then when a society becomes increasingly based on bullshit the ability to bullshit probably becomes the most valuable life skill out there.

  15. The Breck Girl had plenty of his own swag to cover up his affair.

    I’d say drop the case. The punishment he will receive for the rest of his life is not being president. Ever.

    Now, if there were a cage match between him and Weiner… I’d shell out PPV bucks for that.

    1. Dumbass v. Asshole

      1. Douche v. Turd.

        1. Let’s get out and vote…let’s make our voices heard…

  16. “The Justice Department has no business trying to imprison someone for violating a law whose meaning is anyone’s guess. Civilized government requires giving citizens clear advance notice of what constitutes a crime.”

    But then we don’t have a “Civilized government.” See People v Marrero Ct. App. N. Y. 1987.

    http://scholar.google.com/scho…..i=scholarr

    For a summary: http://www.invispress.com/law/…..rrero.html

  17. I’d be very concerned about what is being done to John Edwards if I could stop laughing about it.

    He backed the very law that he is being hung out to dry on.

    ‘Hoist by his own petard’ and all that.

    1. This.

      If anyone, anywhere, should ever have to be subject to the pile of crap that is being used on Edwards, it is those people who exercised our sovereign power to make it the law.

      And John did.

      It is important—very important—that the political class understand that it can happen to them.

      Note to sitting and prospective legislators: now is the time to start the ball rolling on reining in the federal prosecutorial service and reducing and simplifying the law. If you wait until you and in the sights it will be too late.

      Do it while you still have the chance.

    2. Indeed. Clinton got caught in a similar trap re sexual harassment.

  18. Who cares? He made himself one of the richest men in the world by supposedly being the greatest trial lawyer in the world. And every American with an insurance policy paid him.

    If he was really so brilliant ? and not just a pretty boy ambulance chaser ? he’ll defend himself and be released.

  19. …but it’s tuff to feel pity for the guy. If only the Enquirer had waited to break the love-child story until the day after Obama picked him for VP running mate: now THAT would have been a beautiful scandal — maybe even would have cost Obama the election.

  20. I hope he wins then trips on the curb outside the courthouse and gets killed by a truck.

    1. No.

      His estate would sue the courthouse, the city, the truck driver, the street paving company, the truck manufacturer, the tire manufacturer,….

      1. Not if was hit by a SWAT truck.

  21. To bad he didn’t show up at a voting booth with a baseball bat and threaten to beat the hell out of anyone who didn’t vote for him. The Justice Department wouldn’t touch him.

  22. now THAT would have been a beautiful scandal — maybe even would have cost Obama the election

  23. I am an aspiring architect and I am appalled

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.